CG In Asia
Karen Moltenbrey
February 2, 2012

CG In Asia

For decades, SIGGRAPH has been the popular destination for those working in the computer graphics fields. Indeed, attendees to this popular conference and exhibition have come from the four corners of the world to learn, participate, and share. Starting a few years ago, ACM SIGGRAPH began holding SIGGRAPH Asia, bringing the excitement and information surrounding the event to the Asian communities.
SIGGRAPH Asia 2011, held in Hong Kong this past December, brought together more than 7,500 computer graphics professionals, researchers, and enthusiasts hailing from 53 countries across the globe.

“SIGGRAPH Asia has come a long way since its introduction in 2008 in Singapore. Over the years, we have seen significant growth in the number of attendees as well as submissions and participations across all the programs, from both the region and internationally,” said Professor Lee Yong Tsui, SIGGRAPH Asia Conference Advisory Group Chair. “Our efforts to continuously refine our program and bring in content that showcases Asia, while still upholding the highest standards unique to SIGGRAPH, has proven to be a winning combination. As we move into our fifth year and return to Singapore next year, I am confident that the event will continue to see more of Asia’s best as it strengthens its identity as a unique, credible, and important event in the calendars of computer graphics and interactive techniques professionals and enthusiasts.” 

Here, we talk to Jeff Jortner, ACM SIGGRAPH president, and Professor Lee Yong Tsui, SIGGRAPH Asia Conference Advisory Group Chair, about this important region to CG development as well as about the recent trends in the CG industry worldwide.

How does SIGGRAPH (in the US) differ from its Asian counterpart?
Both SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia endeavor to maintain a showcase of high-caliber works from across the world. In this respect, there is no difference between SIGGRAPH Asia and SIGGRAPH in the US.
However, staging the show in Asia allows us as organizers to showcase the strength of the local community in each city we go to. For instance, at SIGGRAPH Asia in Japan, there was a lot of emphasis on robotics, while SIGGRAPH Asia in Korea featured a heavy gaming content. In Hong Kong this year, we celebrated creativity in computer graphics and digital media, with the return of the Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies programs and their focus on the lighter side of technology through the themes ‘FANTAsia’ and ‘Play,’ respectively. 

SIGGRAPH Asia also tends to draw more extensive participation from industry players in the region due to its proximity to the Asian communities. For example, at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 in Hong Kong, the Emerging Technologies program showcased 25 works. Close to 70 percent of those were from Asia-Pacific, with Taiwan and New Zealand as first-time participants. Also, the Technical Papers program received a record-high of 330 submissions, which came from over 33 countries across the globe, with over 40 percent from Asia. And, the Technical Sketches and Poster Program had a strong Asian participation, with about 70 innovative ideas presented by Asian institutions across the region.

What were your expectations for SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 in terms of attendance and the show in general?

SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 concluded with much success this year, recording over 7,500 attendees from 53 countries across the globe. This is the highest number of country representations since SIGGRAPH Asia’s debut in 2008 and is a reflection of how the show has grown in credibility and influence. 

The show has also matured in terms of the content offered. For instance, this year, there were a lot more emphasis on cutting-edge research and development. Beyond animation and gaming, SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 delved into other important areas of discipline within computer graphics, such as augmented reality and autostereoscopy. Even in the area of production, SIGGRAPH Asia put forth more in-depth content that could potentially progress the industry further in areas such as rendering, 3D capture and reconstruction, as well as light transport.

Another prevalent discussion that came up at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 is also how computer graphics and interactive techniques are merging. Featured speaker Bill Buxton shared the history and evolution of both computer graphics and interactive techniques, and how the two specialty fields interrelate with each other. With the adoption of mobile devices growing rapidly in Asia and across the globe, computer graphics will play an important role in enabling the interaction and interface between users and their devices.

The return of core programs such as the Art Gallery and Emerging Technologies programs once again gave voice to inspiring works that marry technology and imagination. Both programs put up an array of thought-provoking displays that clearly showcased the future direction of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

Finally, the inaugural Symposium on Apps drew much interest from attendees. The session Mobile 2.0 – the Future of Mobile Apps: Mashing IT Up and Getting It Out There, which discussed how to create and distribute mobile apps, was especially successful with many potential future entrepreneurs in mobile application development who were in attendance and asking questions from the panel of experts who presented at the session. 

“Asia” encompasses a number of regions—how does SIGGRAPH deal with the diversity of the industries and markets in setting up the show?

The markets are indeed diverse, but that is the beauty of Asia. What it means to us is that it provided us with the room to be creative in our presentation of the show each year. Each city gave us the opportunity to showcase its unique strength and local industry. For example, the show in Japan had a strong content in robotics, while that in Korea showcased the vibrant gaming industry. 

Hosting SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 in Hong Kong presented a unique gateway into the growing Chinese computer animation industry. The number of animation studios in China grew from 120 in 2002 to more than 10,000 in 2009. In the same year, the country's cartoon and animation exports grew 150 percent to reach a total of $30 million (US), signaling the potential in the local computer graphics market. China is also an active contributor to SIGGRAPH Asia, particularly in the area of research and development. This year, experts from China have contributed to 12 Technical Papers, including eight of which were a result of collaborations with renowned international institutions such as Michigan State University, University of Massachusetts, and Microsoft Research Asia. Chinese works also feature across the other programs at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011.

Hong Kong has a long history of well-known local studios that are very active in animation and production, and is also building up its capabilities in digital innovations. Invest Hong Kong (InvestHK), the HKSAR Government's department responsible for foreign direct investment, and Create Hong Kong (CreateHK), another Hong Kong government agency that is responsible for driving Hong Kong's creative economy, are sponsoring this year's SIGGRAPH Asia.

In terms of the international market, what are some of the newer growth areas in CG?

Augmented reality will continue to be a growth area in computer graphics. The industry will continue to see efforts in translating the research and development in augmented reality into various areas of applications in the future. As devices shrink and become more mobile, there will also be opportunity to research into how augmented reality can be realized through these devices. Augmented reality technology has been around for a while, but one can say that the advent of mobile devices has further spurred its advancements. Today, people can buy a device and gain technology in their hands.

Other growth areas include 3D television and photography. In the research field, computer graphics will see increased application in areas that require visualization and analysis of composed images, such as Geographic Information Systems, geological studies, mapping of oil fields, and so forth.

How are world consumers embracing augmented reality?

Augmented reality will soon be part of daily lives, as the technology matures and becomes more commercialized. Already, some of the things we saw at SIGGRAPH Asia this year demonstrated how augmented reality can materialize as a commercially viable project in the future. For example, the Emerging Technologies program at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011 showcased several interesting projects that were based on augmented reality. This includes a coloring book in which the characters can come to life, a handheld device that can super-impose furniture into a real-life setting, as well as an augmented reality micro-machine based on Microsoft Kinect that allows users to drive a virtual race car around a real desk.

Are you seeing more growth opportunity in terms of entertainment, engineering, or other markets in which CG is used throughout the globe?

Computer graphics is fast making its way into many areas that has impact on both high-tech research and daily lives. The use of computer graphics in entertainment and mobile devices will continue to see growth opportunities as developers continue to break barriers and uncover new possibilities in what computer graphics can achieve. Computer graphics is also playing an increasingly more important role in niche areas of research in other high-performance computing fields as well as those that involves precise digital imaging, such as health-care, oil exploration, and weather studies. I think the use of computer graphics is moving toward areas such as information management and analysis, as well as visualization.

What are some of the latest trends in Asia pertaining to CG?

Just like in the rest of the world, Asia is starting to see the merging of devices, and with it, the opportunities for computer graphics to play an important role for consumers. Computer graphics used to be presented to the consumers on the big screen, such as visual effects for movies or computer gaming. Today, the emergence of mobile devices have scaled down the screen and put the power of computer graphics literally into the hands of consumers.

What kind of opportunities are we seeing in this region for CG artists and animators?

It is an exciting time to be in the computer graphics industry in Asia. Across the region, governments are channeling investments to build up the local digital media industry. The industry is seen as a growth opportunity to create more jobs and attract foreign investments. What this means is that there will be demand for CG artists and animators in areas such as production, entertainment, and mobile applications.

What does the Asian market bring to the CG industry?

Asia is fast becoming the hub of growth for computer graphics industry. The rising economies in the region have created a huge demand for mobile devices and new media that far surpasses that in Western markets. In tandem with this, the industry is also seeing much growth in the work and talents coming out of the region.

Asia has seen many studios contributing to some of the special effects for Hollywood blockbusters. SIGGRAPH Asia is a great venue that showcased such collaborations. For example the Special Session, Puss in Boots: India’s Role In the Making of an Animated Blockbuster, by DreamWorks Dedicated Unit-Technicolor India (DDU), shared insights into developing the special effects for this well-loved animation in India. DDU is collaboration between DreamWorks and Technicolor India. 

Governments throughout Asia are also investing in the development of computer graphic and the digital media industry in their countries in order to create opportunities for the local communities while attracting investments from foreign players. More and more, Asia is leading the world, especially in the area of research and development in computer graphics. For instance, 40 percent of the research papers submitted to SIGGRAPH Asia were from Asia. Also, the Emerging Technologies Program, where the most thought-provoking possibilities of computer graphics are explored, has always been dominated by Asian players, most notably from Japan. 

The combination of government support and rising enthusiasm in the field would mean that Asia will drive the growth and development in the industry and stand on par with the West in terms of their contribution to the computer graphics industry.

Is the Asian market seen as a subset of the US market, as a place to outsource certain functions such as roto work, or does it stand on its own, producing its own IP?

I think Asia, as a place to outsource work, is a feature of the past, present, and future, given the simple fact that there are talents in Asia and the cost of production is lower here. But the very talents that used to do the outsourced work are also creative creatures themselves; they can and are creating features of their own, initially to address the local markets, but eventually will be able to venture further afield. There are many examples of leading-edge works produced in Asia today both for local and international markets, and these stand as proof of Asia’s a talents. Increasingly, we are also witnessing the export of Asian works that is not only of a high caliber in terms of the technology used, but also feature infusions of Asian culture. Japanese manga and anime are very good examples of how Asia is producing its own creative content.

Based on the trend that we are seeing in the Emerging Technologies Program at SIGGRAPH Asia since its debut, where there has always been strong participation from Asia, the region is certainly poised as a strong player in the computer graphics and interactive techniques industry, creating its own original intellectual property in the near future. 

As a principal member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, Jeff Jortner has over 28 years of experience in leading, developing, evaluating, and applying novel tools for scientific visualization, geospatial analysis, visual analytics, and computer-aided modeling. His current research interest is in innovative visualization tools and environments for engineering systems.  He is a member of ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM, and the IEE.